What is an Illegal Question?

By Carole Martin

Legal-and-Illegal-Options-with-Legal-Circled-960x645

  • How old are you?
  • Do you have children?
  • How is your health?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Illegal or improper? That is the question.
Technically, it is illegal for an interviewer to ask anything personal that is not directly job-related. Off-limit questions include, but are not limited to: information regarding your age, marital status, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, and health status. Almost any legal information about you is illegal in the job interview.

Example
The female candidate was asked, “Do you plan to have children?” She was taken aback by the question and wasn’t sure how to answer.

She had three choices:

  • A. To answer the question honestly even though she did not want to.
  • B. To tell the interviewer it is none of his business and the question is illegal.
  • C. To deal with the concern behind the question, ignoring the illegal question itself.

How would you answer the question if you were the female candidate?

The best answer is “C.”

An appropriate answer from the candidate might have been,
“Whether or not I plan to have children in the future is not real-
ly relevant to my career. I plan to work and have a career no
matter what happens in my personal life.”

Why is this type of question asked in an interview? Why are interviewers concerned about your plans to reproduce, your marital status and your retirement plans? It’s simple; they want to make sure you are the solution to a problem, not the source of more headaches.

When the female candidate was asked her plans regarding future motherhood, the interviewer may have been trying
to determine whether she was in for the long-term or just until the company could pay for the birth of her firstborn. It is clearly a discriminatory question, one that would probably never be asked of a male candidate, and it is illegal!

  1. When you are asked this type of question, consider that you have options as to how you will answer.
  2. You can answer the question and move on. (This may not feel good, but how important is the question to you?)
  3. Don’t answer the questions when asked. (This may feel good, but they may take offense and consider that you may be a “trouble maker.”)
  4. Think about the reason behind the question itself. (Best option if you can think the question through).
  5. Consider the source and the nature of the question. (Do you want to work for a company that asks this type
    of question in an interview?)
  6. There are some exceptions to some personal questions asked, which might be confusing.

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